A Joyous Day in Cheltenham

After the turmoil and confusion of the last week, this morning was full of light not simply due to the glorious late summer weather, but also the joy of meeting our core Cheltenham parishioners as we come to the end of the Dormition period.

Rather bleary eyed after a week of visiting, we headed from west to east, across the Severn to celebrate the penultimate day of the feast with our brothers and sisters in Gloucestershire.

After a meeting to discuss continuing parish life, we shared a festive lunch and then prayed the akathist to the Mother of God, in honour of her icon the Giver of Reason (Pribavlenie Uma – Прибавление ума), whose feast fell last Sunday.

The parishioners who attended, and those who were unable and sent their apologies, confirmed the very evident truth that the ROCOR parish of the Holy Great Prince Vladimir is alive and well – Praise God!

As well as discussing continuing liturgical and spiritual life, we look to building links between the Cheltenham and Cardiff parishes, something which has hitherto been little encouraged from Gloucestershire. Our Cardiff community will do everything possible to support its brothers and sisters across the Severn, and our Cheltenham parishioners are already encouraging car-shares to Cardiff, whilst we make arrangements for the next service in Cheltenham.

Father Deacon Mark and I are extremely grateful for the warm hospitality we received today, and are greatly heartened by the strength and resilience we encountered.

We earnestly pray for God’s blessing upon the Cheltenham faithful, and praise Him for their steadfastness in the Faith.

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

Holy Great Prince Vladimir, pray to God for us!

O Most Pure Theotokos, the House that God’s Wisdom has created for Himself, Giver of spiritual gifts, who dost elevate our minds from the world to the spiritual spheres and teach us reason! Accept the prayerful singing of thine unworthy servants, who venerate thee with faith and compunction before thy Most Pure image. Entreat thy Son and our God that He may grant our authorities wisdom and power; our judges truth and justice; our pastors spiritual wisdom, zeal and vigilant guarding of our souls; our mentors humble wisdom; our children obedience, and to all of us the spirit of reason and piety, the spirit of humility and meekness, the spirit of purity and truth. And now, our all-praised and all-loved Mother, increase our intelligence, pacify and unite those in hostility and separation, and give them an unbreakable bond of love; direct all those who have strayed through lack of reason, to the light of Christ’s truth and edify them in fear of God, abstention and love of work; give words of wisdom and knowledge, useful for the souls of those pleading with thee, who art more radiant than the cherubim and more honourable than the seraphim; that we, seeing God’s glorious works and His unfathomable wisdom, in the world and in our lives, shall abandon all earthly vanity and needless earthly concerns, raising our minds and our hearts to the heavens, and with thy protection and help shall glorify, thank and praise God, One in three and Creator of all, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen  

God Preserve Our Cheltenham Faithful!

Dear brothers and sisters, 

How sad it is to learn of such subterfuge and deception in the Church, as faithful parishioners of the Cheltenham parish (opposed to the plans of the suspended reader, Philip Hicks) inform us that they were excluded from the on-line meeting held yesterday evening, to ‘discuss’ the future of the parish. 

Other parishioners refused to take part in this meeting, as it was irregular, contrary to the byelaws of ROCOR and part of the attempted coup.

However, loyal parishioners whose views were not known and were therefore not blocked from the meeting, have reported that there was no real discussion, and that there will be no vote, as the schismatic party has declared that this is a ‘lateral move’. At least the Ukrainian schismatics have a ‘vote’ – even if it is rigged with busloads of people from elsewhere.

Therefore, having decided that he would move to the Paris-based Archdiocese, suspended Reader Philip Hicks (who has no canonical release form ROCOR) is ignoring the parishioners who are rejecting this schism, and at his behest the parish is transferring to the Archdiocese of Metropolitan Jean of Dubna. 

No it is not, whatever the suspended Reader, his wife and handful of supporters may do! 

The ROCOR parish in Cheltenham will continue and Cheltenham parishioners have contacted Father Deacon Mark and myself, making clear their opposition to this rebellion, pledging their loyalty to the ROCOR and to Vladyka Irenei as their bishop. They are clear that the Parish of the Holy Great Prince Vladimir is THEIR parish, not the possession of a suspended reader and the starosta. 

What does this mean? 

  • The Cheltenham Parish of ROCOR will continue to exist, no matter what the other party says, does or insists – and the individuals involved will probably be stamping their feet and insisting on a lot of things. 
  • It means that the Cheltenham parish will continue to be cared for by Cardiff clergy, despite the demands on us in Wales.  
  • There are already discussions regarding organising car-shares and transport to make it possible for as many of the faithful (some of whom do not drive) to attend worship in Cardiff and we will seek to do the same for movement in the other direction for Cheltenham services.
  • We do not know whether it will be possible to worship in All Saints Pittville, so we are examining other options. His Grace, the Bishop of Ebbsfleet, under whose spiritual jurisdiction All Saints falls, has been advised of this schismatic activity and the clerical suspensions in place. We await his response. 
  • Father Deacon Mark and I will meet the faithful as much as possible, to pray and give reassurance as some have been deeply hurt, confused and distressed by these awful events and the secretive machinations behind their backs. They need our prayers, and support – spiritually and possibly materially. 
  • Our parishes will be spiritually reconnected after what appears an obvious and conscious effort to de-ROCORise the Cheltenham Parish and separate our flocks.

I call upon the Cardiff faithful to support this Cheltenham flock as much as possible: to travel to services; to assure them of our love and support when they are with us; to consider accommodating anyone who is forced to use public transport (and this applies to others of our flock from beyond the Severn).  

When Liturgy resumes, I hope that Cardiff parishioners, whether from South Wales or the West of England will make the pilgrimage to Cheltenham, so that we can all join together as one flock of our diocese, from which others have left to further their own schemes. 

Above all, we must pray with fervour and hope, for the peace of the Church, for the healing of schism, and for those who have fallen away. May Christ purify and enlighten their minds, driving away the fog and darkness which obscures their vision, so that they may repent and be re-united to His Church. 

In the meantime, the Patriarch’s office, reassures Vladyka Irenei of the personal support of His Holiness, and His Grace, Bishop Matvey of Sourozh has stated his opposition to this schism, despite the statements made claiming His support for the awful events of the last week. His Holiness is clear that statements regarding the transferral of the suspended Archpriest Andrew Phillips and his coterie are false. The Patriarch has not blessed this move and has himself declared it uncanonical. 

Lastly, I remind the faithful in Cheltenham that the Reader Philip is suspended and forbidden to exercise his ministry as a Reader. The Church is clear that praying and worshipping with a suspended cleric is canonically forbidden and a sin. Expect to told that he is not suspended, that you are being deceived by your ROCOR clergy, and that all is canonically well. Do not listen; do not discuss; simply refuse and stay away.  

Some of you may be contacted by the schismatic party in the next few days. State that you are a parishioner of the ROCOR parish of the Holy Great Prince Vladimir, that you are loyal to your Church and bishop and put the telephone down. Do not be bullied, do not be pressurised, and remember you have nothing to discuss. End the telephone call and go and light a candle and pray for those trying to lead you into schism and further their own ambitions with you as a tool. Be humble, be merciful and compassionate – but also be wise! 

“Brethren, be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith.” 

With much love in Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Services this weekend.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings as we continue to celebrate the feast of the Dormition of the Mother of God, which we marked last Saturday and Sunday with services in St John’s, with the plashchanitsa of the Mother of God adorned with flowers.

The beautiful encomia of the Dormition were chanted during our Saturday service, and our Sunday Liturgy began before dawn, at 6:00 am, with the rising sun illuminating the east window of St John’s as the Liturgy progressed.

At the end of a prayerful and beautiful Liturgy, we emerged into the late summer sunshine and made our way to Victoria Park for a parish breakfast of pirozhky, cakes, tea, coffee, and even sweet wine!

It was wonderful to have the faithful travel from as far apart as Llanelli and Stroud, and to have time together chatting in the sunshine, joined by Father Sorin, matushka and his sons and daughters after the Romanian Liturgy, in St Luke’s.

The feast continues till Sunday, when we will again hear the encomia for the Dormition, before the plashchanitsa is venerated and returned to the altar, before its return journey to my kellia, in Llanelli.

We will meet for compline and confessions on Saturday, at 16:30, though we will be there around 16:00, with the possibility of some confessions being heard before the service.

Then on Sunday, the church will be open for us around 10:15, for set up and the proskomedia and Hours at 11:00, followed by the Liturgy.

Again, I encourage parishioners to bring savoury and sweet ‘finger food’ for easy sharing after the service, when tea and coffee will be available.

Your prayers are asked for our Cheltenham parishioners who have stated their opposition to their suspended reader’s aim of persuading them to leave the ROCOR.

May God bless them and defend them from schism, and may the Most Holy Mother of God preserve them beneath her most pure veil.

Despite our demands here in Wales, Father Deacon Mark, I and our Cardiff parishioners (some of whom live in Wiltshire) will support our ROCOR faithful in Gloucestershire. Supporting our Cheltenham faithful, and finding ways to enable the clergy to do this will be discussed at our General Parish Meeting, after the Divine Liturgy on Sunday, 12 September.

The variables for this Sunday’s service may be found at –

https://drive.google.com/file/d/19P-r-hkH6k6tMsTS3FUjmO_p0iQMZ84A/view

Most Holy Mother of God, save us!

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

The Cheltenham Mission

Dear brothers and sisters,

Many of you will be painfully aware of the unfolding events surrounding the schism within our diocese, in which one archpriest, has led two deacons, a group of readers (and two non-ROCOR Moldovan priests) to the former Paris ‘Exarchate’, which has received them without canonical release by our ruling hierarch, Bishop Irenei. The ROCOR clerics have all been suspended.

It has been claimed that the communities involved are moving, with their clerics, after a meeting and vote.

This affects us in the west, as the Cheltenham parish (served by the Cardiff clergy until recently) has been drawn into this. Its reader, Philip Hicks (now suspended) is one of those who has followed the suspended Archpriest, Andrew Phillips.

This is very sad as the Cheltenham parish has been a wonderful example of community-life during and after lockdown, in which Reader Philip has selflessly ensured not only the maintenance, but also the growth of parish prayer life.

There have been openly discussed and acknowledged frustrations regarding provision of a priest, and uncertainty about the future, which may have led to the exploration of alternative ways forward.

However, this was not done openly, but without any discussion with Father Deacon Mark or I, and without discussion with our Chancellor or Bishop, as far as I am aware. Clearly, there were discussions with other parties, who involved Cheltenham (without the knowledge of the parishioners) in their own plans and schemes.

Contrary to claims, the few Cheltenham parishioners with whom Deacon Mark and I have spoken have said they know nothing of this move, and that there has been no meeting or parish discussion regarding a change of jurisdiction. Parishioners have referred to vague allusions to alternatives, but no group discussion.

Last night, together with his new Dean, the suspended Reader Philip made an on-line announcement that a meeting will be held this Wednesday to discuss and vote on this matter, despite the fact that he now claims to belong to another jurisdiction and under the omophorion of another bishop. This is obviously an anomaly, and for a ROCOR parish this meeting is unconstitutional.

The clergy who have served the parish cannot even get replies to emails, and I am sadly unable to communicate with most Cheltenham parishioners, as only Reader Philip has their contact details, and has sole administrator rights of all social media. For a considerable time, my greetings and homilies have not been published on the Cheltenham Facebook page, and this seems to suggest a gradual de-ROCORisation of the parish, as Deacon Mark and I have been airbrushed out of parish identity.

From the perspective of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, what has been reported and what is being planned is irregular, uncanonical and an abuse. All of these machinations are a painful betrayal of the trust of the parish, the clergy and diocese, trampling on the obedience which is the very foundation of any ministry in the Church.

I wish to stress that despite the burdens of combining full-time work and parish responsibilities, the Cardiff clergy will continue to minister to the Cheltenham faithful who reject this schism and remain faithful to their Church.

I urgently ask Cheltenham parishioners to contact the clergy to seek clarification, accurate information, and assurance.

Email: otetzmark@hotmail.com and rmfisher@ntlworld.com .

Telephone: Hieromonk Mark 07593 239947 (though unavailable until this evening) and Deacon Mark 07790 031375.

Please pray fervently for the peace of the Church and all involved in this tragedy, and share this information with Cheltenham parishioners.

In Christ – Hieromonk Mark

Services and confessions this weekend.

Dear brothers and sisters,  

May I remind you that this coming Sunday of the Dormition, God willing, our Liturgy will be at the unusually early time of 06:00, due to Anglican use of St John’s around noon. 

The Liturgy itself, NOT the hours, will start at this time, and we must vacate the church by 08:30, as there is an Anglican service at 09:00. Please arrive promptly. Although this is an extra early start, especially as we usually begin the Liturgy three hours later, all (especially communicants) should be in church for the initial blessing of the Liturgy. We understand that those travelling distances may be unable to be there for 6:00, but those living in Cardiff should be in church for this early start. Remember, this is what our Romanian sister-parish has to do EVERY week! 

The early start will make it impossible to hear confessions before Liturgy, but although it cannot be guaranteed, there may be time for confessions for those travelling from Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, afterwards. In this case, confessions will need to be brief, as there is no leeway regarding our departure time. Anyone hoping to confess on Sunday should email me: otetzmark@hotmail.com 

Parishioners have suggested a post-Liturgy gathering for ‘coffee and cake’ (or something more substantial in the café, perhaps) in Canton’s Victoria Park, which seems an excellent idea. So, those who would like to join this gathering should bring their flasks and supplies, or we could stage an Orthodox takeover of the park café. It should open at 08:30 and provide shelter, should the weather be inclement… which would be traditional for our Welsh summer. 

Should anyone feel so inclined, the remaining day could possibly accommodate a visit to a local holy place. Suggestions please! 

Confessions for local parishioners will be heard on Saturday, when – God willing – we will celebrate compline at 16:30. Sadly, although Saturday is the feast of the Dormition, I was unable to take the day off from my secular employment and will have to work until 14:30.

Sunday, the second day of the Dormition, will be the feast of the Icon of the Saviour ‘Not Made by Human Hands’ (the Mandilion / Holy Face) and the Icon of the Mother of God the Giver of Reason (Pribavlenie Uma). 

The variables may be found, as usual, at the Orthodox Austin website: 

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zkb0J92JqJjw6fsYni7ln5hx9br-RNw4/view 

I look forward to celebrating with all who are able to gather on Sunday.

Asking your forgiveness for Christ’s sake. 

Spasi Gospodi – Fr Mark 

 

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